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ALDS: Money's on the table
George Steinbrenner is scheduled to be in attendance for Game 3 of the ALDS, the first time he's been in the Bronx for a game since the beginning of the season. The Boss and his Yankees are now in desperate need of big-money performances from their most expensive stars -- specifically Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, but also Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon and even Derek Jeter too.
Roger Clemens raked in $4.5 million per month in 2007, posting a modest 6-6 record with a 4.18 ERA. But he has pitched just twice (10 innings) in the past month. On Sunday, he'll take the mound for the first time in three weeks in what could conceivably be the final start of his legendary career. (In fact, it could conceivably be the final playoff game in the history of Yankee Stadium if the Yankees lose.)
What the Yankees can expect from Clemens is anyone's guess. He was effective in his previous outing -- giving up just a single run on two hits over six innings against the Red Sox at Fenway Park -- but the Rocket has not been dominant this year. Pitching in the AL East and not the NL Central has something to do with it (Clemens struck out only 68 batters in 99 innings). Even more to the point, his body has finally caught up with him. Now, he's forced by his own limitations to be a different kind of pitcher. Mentally, he's as alert and competitive as ever.
Now he's center stage in the biggest game of the season. This is the whole point for Clemens being with the Yankees in the first place. Yet if he falters, Mike Mussina, another big money veteran, is likely to be the first in line for long relief. Recall that Mussina saved Clemens' bacon once before. When the Rocket was pounded by the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2003 ALDS, it was Mussina who stopped the bleeding with three scoreless innings.
Mussina won the 250th game of his career this summer but was just 11-10 with a 5.15 ERA, by far the worst of his career. He did have a couple of decent outings in September, but lacking the finesse of El Duque or Greg Maddux, who make due with average fastballs because they changes speeds so brilliantly, Mussina's stuff has been exceedingly hittable. If the Yankees have to rely on Mussina to save their season, well, they'd better hope the hitting comes around.
Which brings us to Rodriguez, who is over-due for his big-money (re: Reggie) moment. The spotlight won't be hotter on any Yankee than Rodriguez, who is hitless in first two games of the series. Rodriguez was overmatched by Fausto Carmona in Game 2, but he was jumpy too. According to Murray Chass in The New York Times:
In the fourth inning and again in the ninth, Rodriguez batted with first base unoccupied and a runner at second. The second time with the potential winning run at second. But the Indians eschewed an intentional walk. Carmona pitched to Rodriguez, and he struck him out.
Last year, the Yankee Stadium crowd was all over Rodriguez's every failure, but he won them over this season with a monster season that included a string of late-inning hits. On Sunday, count on the crowd to do everything in its power to will Rodriguez to a breakout performance. And expect Rodriguez to respond. In fact, the entire Yankee offense is ripe for a big game, especially with Jake Westbrook on the mound for the Indians. Westbrook is a professional pitcher, of course, but a far cry from Sabathia and Carmona. If the Yankee hitters can't get it going against Westbrook, they'll have their tails between their legs as they head home.
The Indians, on the other hand, are playing with house money. They can swing free-and-easy in New York with a two-game cushion. Through two games, Cleveland's pitching has been great, and haven't had to use their closer, Joe Borowski -- a weaker option than setup men Rafael Perez or Rafael Betancourt. Even if the Indians lose Game 3, they can either counter with the veteran Paul Byrd or return to Sabathia for Game 4 and still have Carmona for Game 5 if necessary back in Cleveland.
For the second-straight year, the big-bad Yankees have been shut down in October by young pitching. In order for them to stay alive, they need for their veteran stars to shine. If they don't, there will be a lot of questions. First and foremost: Will Rodriguez opt out of his contract and escape from New York? But also, will Joe Torre be fired? And if he is, will Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera return? The big money is on the table. Now, will the real money players show up?
posted by SI.com | View comments |
I'm so happy to see the Evil Empire losing.
Its funny they are still considered "evil" despite the fact that Boston and the Mets have done the same things that the Yankees have done recently. A case of the pot calling the kettle black by most fans.
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